PORTLAND, Maine - Nothing is ever easy for the Curve in the ninth inning of close games, but for once they finally found a way to finish one off on the road.
Portland was one hit away from winning with two runners in scoring position in the ninth Sunday, but Altoona held on for a 5-4 victory at Hadlock Field. The Curve snapped an official five-game losing streak, although they had dropped six in a row when figuring in the completion of a suspended game.
Altoona had been 0-12 on the road in one-run games before finally ending that dubious drought Sunday. The Curve scored three runs in the fifth inning for a 5-3 lead, and the Sea Dogs cut the deficit to one with a run in their half of the fifth.
Starter Adrian Sampson kept the one-run lead through seven innings, then turned it over to his bullpen, which has been a devastating disappointment all season with 14 blown saves. One reliever, though, who has not blown a save is Kenn Kasparek, who got his first opportunity.
Kasparek came on and worked a perfect eighth inning, and manager Carlos Garcia decided to stay with him for the ninth, even though newcomer Jason Townsend was warming up in the bullpen.
Portland opened the ninth with a single by Keury De La Cruz, then Kasparek retired the next two batters. It appeared Kasparek might have blown the save when Bo Greenwell doubled down the right field line.
Tonight: Altoona at New Britain, 6:35 p.m.
Pitchers: Curve LHP Zack Dodson (1-3, 4.22) vs. Rock Cats TBD
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: 3B Jarek Cunningham, 2B Gift Ngoepe and RHP Yao-Hsun Yang were activated Sunday after serving three-game suspensions for their roles in Wednesday's brawl at New Hampshire. OF Keon Broxton and U Andy Vasquez began serving their three-game suspensions and will be able to play again Wednesday.
SAFE AT FIRST: C Ralph Henriquez has had a dismal season offensively, entering Sunday with an .088 batting average (5-for-57). But he had a big hit against Portland with a solo homer in the third inning to ignite the Curve's comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
STEALING SECOND: RHP Matt Benedict was assigned to high-A Bradenton after posting an 0-5 record and 7.54 ERA in 21 games (one start).
ROUNDING THIRD: Benedict was replaced by RHP Jason Townsend, who went 5-5 with a 6.71 ERA in 36 games (one start) for Altoona last year. Townsend had been on the disabled list all year with an elbow injury until making two appearances recently with short-season Jamestown.
HEADING HOME: The Curve now head to New Britain for three games, and they're catching the Rock Cats at the wrong time as the team has won a franchise-record 11 games.
- Cory Giger
However, De La Cruz was held up at third base, largely because Curve right fielder Willy Garcia has one of the best outfield arms in all of minor league baseball with a whopping 12 outfield assists in only 65 games.
The Sea Dogs had the tying run at third and winning run at second, the kind of situation that has killed the Curve all season. But this time Kasparek came through in the clutch, striking out Derrick Gibson swinging to end the game and earn his first save.
Sampson (5-4) remains second in the Eastern League in ERA, but he saw that figure rise from 2.15 to 2.39 as he allowed four runs on eight hits in seven innings.
Portland starter Mike Augliera (3-6) gave up five runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings for the loss.
Ralph Henriquez and Justin Howard homered for the Curve, helping them battle back after they fell behind 3-0 in the second inning.
Altoona took the lead for good on a two-run single by Drew Maggi in the fifth.
Key player: Curve RHP Kenn Kasparek converted a two-inning save, blanking the Sea Dogs and striking out three to protect a one-run lead.
Key play: LF Drew Maggi's single in the fifth scored Gift Ngoepe and Junior Sosa for a 4-3 Curve lead.
Key stat: The Curve snapped a five (although technically six) game losing streak, plus they won a one-run game on the road for the first time after starting the season 0-12.
How they scored
Bottom 2nd: Chester singled, scored on Spring fielder's choice groundout (0-1); Roof two-run homer scored Spring (0-3).
Top 3rd: Henriquez solo homer (1-3).
Top 4th: Howard solo homer (2-3).
Top 5th: Ngoepe singled, Sosa singled, both scored on Maggi single (4-3); Howard single scored Maggi (5-3).
Bottom 5th: Gibson doubled, scored on Marrero single (5-4).